- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced an initiative this week that is supposed to improve the nation's agricultural research, possibly including development of new products based on plants and bacteria.
So far, the products have included plastics, detergents, fabrics and sugars. Investors are hoping industrial biotechnology will rejuvenate the technology sector of the economy.
Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced appointments to a new Research, Education and Economics Task Force. The task force is assigned to evaluate possibilities for establishing a new national institute to study a variety of food and agricultural issues, including industrial biotechnology.
Some industrial biotech products already are showing up on retail shelves and in industrial inventories.
Yesterday, the Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) presented Wall Street investors with the financial opportunities of biotech at the New York Academy of Sciences.
Industrial biotechnology in its infancy now is likely to be worth $100 billion by 2010, according to McKinsey & Co., a financial consulting firm.
"This first-ever industrial biotech briefing for the financial community is a watershed event that signals some real reasons to be optimistic about this technology and its role in economic development," said Brent Erickson, BIO vice president.
One example of industrial biotechnology efforts is Nutramax Laboratories in Edgewood, Md., a company that uses amino acids and other biological agents to develop dietary supplements.
"This company has grown in 10 years from a small company to one of the leaders in the dietary supplement industry," said Paul Deblinger, Nutramax spokesman.
Another example is the Center for Biosystems Research at the University of Maryland's College Park campus.
Among their projects, researchers at the center developed a method for extracting chitosan from crab shells. Chitosan is a substance used for dietary supplements, makeup, adhesives and other products.
An investor used the University of Maryland's chitosan extraction process to form a company called Chitan Works of America, based in Cambridge, Md., that sells the chitosan to industry.
The company's production process also is helping to resolve the environmental problem of crab shells thrown away as waste along Maryland's Eastern Shore.
"People were dumping it in the water there," said Steve Berberich, spokesman for the Center for Biosystems Research.
Examples of consumer products already manufactured with biotechnology include:
Bio-based plastic derived from corn sugar has been used to produce clothing, carpeting, bedding, upholstery, automobile parts, candy wrappers and cups.
High fructose corn syrup the primary sweetener in soft drinks is made with enzymes.
Proteases, which are enzymes that remove protein impurities such as food and grass stains, are key components of modern laundry detergents.
Enzymes are used to create the faded appearance of jeans, replacing previous chemical processes that weaken fabric.
Use of enzymes can eliminate the pollution caused by fuels or acids for similar industrial processes, according to BIO.
"If more companies adopt this technology in the future, industrial biotechnology could reduce pollution more than all of the command and control regulations currently in place," said Carl Feldbaum, BIO's president.

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